Our Big Family School Morning Routine

Today’s post is by my friend Katie. Katie wrote her first guest post back in September last year Our Big Family Story. This post Katie share more about her family and how her and her husband go about life with 8 kids.

There is just so much to love about this post – Katie’s love for her family, her honesty that family life is not perfect, that sometimes you do make concessions to keep the peace and her openness to trying new things for her family.

I find Katie’s story inspiring and encouraging I hope you do too!

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Around six months ago I wrote a post for Nicole’s blog called ‘Our Big Family Story’.  I received such beautiful feedback from readers that when she asked me to write another post, I jumped at the opportunity.  This time I am writing about ‘Our School Morning Routine’, although I appear to have become a little lost at times.  We are a family of ten – Mum and Dad, and eight children ranging in age from twelve down to two years.  We have one set of twins who are three years old.  Our eldest is our only son.  We have seven gorgeous daughters.

Keeping it special

There is a total artistry to a family.  It’s a real, living creation.  I often feel that I am painting a picture.  It’s about adding a little bit of everything, colour and texture, and trying to make it work.  It’s seeing where the good bits are and bolstering up the bits that are falling apart.  It’s terrifying sometimes, the responsibility we have for all of these little lives.  It’s not always about having all the answers yourself, but leading the children in the right direction.  I love other people contributing to our children’s lives.  That they would care enough to do so is a beautiful thing.

In the morning I try to acknowledge each of the children when they wake up.  It might be a little hug or an arm around the shoulder.  What does it achieve?  Maybe not much but I want them all to feel special – because they are!  Each one of our children is startlingly different and yet there is a similarity to them all that is palpable and has a heartbeat.

I like to give everyone a kiss goodbye in the morning, and as they arrive home.  When you live in a home with the same people day after day, week after week, year after year; when you have seen them pretty much every day of their existence it only takes a few seconds of connecting with them to ascertain a general snapshot of how they are, or how their day is beginning or ending.

Up and going!

These days my husband and I are up at 6.30am six days a week.  Our eldest has commenced secondary school this year.  This involves train travel for him and everybody seems to be up half an hour earlier. At least one morning a week when he has a particularly heavy bag, or it is raining, I drive him to the station.  I have purchased a navy and white striped nightgown that I kid myself looks like a maxi dress.  Invariably, it is me, in my maxi dress come nightgown dashing out to the car with sideways glances in the adjoining neighbour’s direction for fear of being ‘sprung’.  It’s not ideal, and it’s moments like these you realise that you have morphed into your own parents.

I attempt to shower as soon as I rise, or invariably, it is after 9am by the time I have the opportunity.  And relaxing showers really are a thing of the past.  My body has been examined in the most minute detail.  I can’t stand looking at myself naked these days.  And I really don’t need to because over the years every child has described each part of my body and its current state of collapse in morbid and confronting honesty.

Tidying

I make our bed and tidy the bedroom after my shower.  I have to seriously work at being tidy.  It does not come easily.  I find it entirely effortful.  When I look at my less than ideally organised pantry – I am totally overwhelmed.  And I know this is ridiculous.  I can care for eight children and yet I am beaten by a pantry.  And it eats at me. I have had a peek at Nic’s posts on ‘organisation’ and that is what I want and need.  I think it’s a bit like losing weight.  The initial loss is difficult but staying that way, it’s a lifetime commitment.  I think that also warbles around in the recesses of my mind.

My sister-in-law, well, I like to think she has tidy eyes.  I don’t have tidy eyes.  She sees a state of disorganized chaos and immediately she is separating/compartmentalizing items into uses, colours, sizes.  I see the same mess and frankly, I am brought to my knees.  I don’t know where to begin.  My husband says start in the corner, but which one? And then I keep looking away from the corner to the overwhelming mess in every other direction – and I am beaten.  And I see the same signs in some of our children.  So I try to help them tidy so they can experience a little bit of head clearing, and be confident that it is not impossible.  The truth is it takes every bit of my concentration and attention and organizational capacity to do this with them.  And I know the path ahead for them is a tricky one! My girlfriend, Angela, put things slightly in perspective.  She said, “What would you like on your gravestone?  Kept a tidy house?”.

Meals

I then head off to the kitchen to make the children’s lunches.  I use a mixture of Tupperware containers and velcro fastening satchels to house the children’s lunches.  I used to use a LOT of cling wrap, but got to the point where I was throwing out too much plastic to feel comfortable with.  Two mornings a week the twins attend a local kindergarten.  These mornings it is seven lunches I prepare.  It becomes quite overwhelming and confusing!

Our three-year-old twins are still having bottles – if I’m honest, it’s probably three a day.  I figure it’s just healthy milk in a vessel regardless of the action they choose to get it to their stomachs.  I know they will be over it soon – the others were.  One of the twins still has a dummy, the other sucks her thumb, and both have ‘ruggies’ which now seems a very generous term for the ragged pieces of matted wool they drag around.  (They were once gorgeous ‘shawls’ knitted lovingly by my mother-in-law.  They have now literally been loved to death!

We are trying to encourage the children to eat brown bread – but there is consistent resistance.  Our lunches are not terribly exciting.  All of the children have a sandwich with either vegemite, ham and sauce (I’m hearing you!!!) or jam (it’s fruit with energy!!!).  I have usually baked treats (biscuits, cupcakes, muffins, pikelets).  Maybe some yoghurt or biscuits and cheese and always cut up fruit and/or vegetables.  I have separate containers for the fresh fruit in warmer weather, which I pop into the freezer for 30 minutes before the children leave for school.  This all seems to work fairly well.  There are, of course always complaints!!!  And frantic swapping of food items and lunches before the children head out the door.  I very rarely buy supermarket snack food (think muesli bars, LCM bars).  I sometimes feel a bit panicked at the thought of not having these back ups in the cupboard.  But we manage.

After the lunches are done, I make my husband and I a coffee from our fabulous coffee machine.  It was my 40th birthday present! It is definitely my morning drug of choice!!!  I feel I am having a little break and some decadence when I drink from my beautiful handmade porcelain cup.  By this time other children have arisen, the television is on (I know! I know!) and I am helping the other children prepare their breakfast.  We don’t set up the night before.  I worked in a ‘Special Accommodation Home’ (with elderly people) whilst I was studying at Uni, and honestly, setting up for breakfast the night before – I am happy to wait until later for that!  The children generally have weetbix, cornflakes – or on school holidays for a special treat I usually purchase some sugary, not so good for you breakfast cereals as a ‘treat’.  The school-aged children are expected to put their breakfast dishes in the dishwasher.  The littlies bring their dishes to the sink, which is necessary but sometimes more trouble than it is worth with the amount of spillage.  My son has recently completed a school science project investigating the difference between A1 and A2 milk, so despite the cost difference we have committed to buying A2 milk for the health benefits (all four litres per day!).  Let’s see how long it lasts!

Help!

On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 4-6 pm my gorgeous nieces (aged 15 and 17) come to help, one each day.  They make the lunches for the next day, so that on Wednesday and Friday mornings all I need to prepare is the fruit in the mornings.  They also bake treats for lunchboxes, tidy up, help with baths and listen to the children’s readers (which I seem to have lost a level of enthusiasm for).  Not only is the extra assistance fantastic but also it is so wonderful for our children to spend time with their older cousins and get to know and love them.

Billy

We have a recent new addition to the family.  No more babies, but a gorgeous cavoodle named ‘Billy’.  So, I let Billy Bonkers out of his crate in the laundry (nobody is EVER as excited to see me as Billy!!!!), which is actually an entirely luxurious boudoir.  I pop him outside to do his ‘business’ and try to keep an eye on where it lands for future retrieval.  I, or one of the children feed him his breakfast, and he has a big run around the backyard with his very little legs.  He really is a darling, and does not shed hair.  He can already ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ and we are all having fun practicing walking him on a lead, which he is not so comfortable with.  And he has created some hilarious moments in our home.  The other day, one of our three-year-old twins was seen holding a doggie biscuit up to our two year old’s face.  “Go on, here, have a dog biscuit” she wheedled.  “Nooooo!” exclaimed two year old with her plump little mouth in a defiant pout.  “Go on – have one! Like you did yesterday!!!!”.

I won’t go too deeply into the pros and cons of acquiring a pooch, suffice to say we wanted a little friend for the children who would possibly provide them with comfort when everyone and everything else seemed to be failing them.  For me, it really felt just like taking on another little body to care for.  For my entire life I have so not been a doggy person.  Don’t like the breath, the saliva, or the poo!! No good can come of a creature that licks its own ‘bits’ and then wants to lick you!!!  But I was never really into children either, and that changed; so we thought we would give it a red-hot go.  And really, I love him.  He is totally one of us now.  I worry about little Billy when we leave him.  And I still don’t like other people’s dogs (very) much!  But I do love ours!

Getting the clan ready

Once the children have begun eating breakfast or at least looking as though they are heading that way, I start getting the three stay at home littlies dressed.  So, I take them one at a time to their bedroom, and throw the dirty linen/washing out into the hallway to be collected later.  If I am in a room dressing a child I will pull the blind up, and tidy as I go – making the bed, putting any clean clothes away, tidy wardrobe etc.  If I am walking past the laundry at any time during the morning I load up the washing machine and the dryer.

There are serial spot fires in our home every morning.  Our son is a bit of a stirrer, so he may find a few spare seconds to frighten one of the girls (knocking on the bathroom window from outside is always a good one).  As exasperating and ridiculous as I find this, it is clearly of immense pleasure to him.  There are lots of “I can’t find my tights!”.  Or someone slipping into Winter uniform for the first time this year, “My tights don’t fit!”.   There is screaming because one girl has pilfered (knowingly of course!) another girl’s sports shorts.  “Do I have sport today?”.  “Please can you phone Amelia’s mum and ask her??????”. These types of hold ups I have no time for.  “Where are my piano books?”.   Me yelling “Have you made your beds? PLEASE make your beds!  I am not your maid!” (insert my mother’s voice here).

It is bedlam.  Five days a week.  If the children have not brought their lunch containers to the kitchen the previous afternoon to be washed, then they have to make their own lunch the next day (and they don’t like that –at all). Our rule making is a somewhat fluid thing.  Some expectations are concrete, however others are open to change and negotiation.  I am always readily open to ideas from other people. My sister-in law informed me of what I think are fantastic rules which we have adopted.  Two of our children are serial offenders at avoiding brushing their teeth regularly.  My husband lines the children’s toothbrushes up every night so we can see who is dodging the brush.  I get that it’s late, and they are tired.  And maybe they have visited the dentist recently, so the next visit is, well, seriously, months away!!!  We have been known to haul the serial offenders to the bathroom from a deep slumber to clean their teeth.  However, since we have installed “the rule” of no cleaning teeth – NOTHING sweet to eat the next day – we have had no trouble!  We only had to follow it up once, with little reminders occasionally.  The other rule is if their bed is not made then they have to sleep without their pillow that night.  My sister in law has made her ten and seven year old children sign a ‘contract of teeth brushing and bed making’ which sits on their fridge.

Walking to School

Our four primary school aged children walk to school together.  It is so wonderful to not have to pack all of the children into the car and drive them.  I know that they must arrive at school with their heads a bit refreshed.  It is great for their independence.  Today the four primary school girls wandered off sharing umbrellas.  I still worry about them crossing the road and they always have to have my eleven-year-old daughter with them (in theory).

Fresh is Best!

In my experience the mornings run a lot more smoothly, with consistently less angst if we have been to bed at a reasonable hour the night before.  Of course this is not always possible.  That’s how I know this to be true! This is becoming considerably more difficult to negotiate, as the children are getting older.  I really need that hour and a half in the evening with my husband.  We’re not always staring adoringly into eachother’s eyes.  One of us might be on the computer, the other watching the television, but there is a fair amount of banter back and forth about funny incidents that have occurred during the day, and any concerns we have for the children.  We have endless cups of tea (one is never enough these days!).  I miss my husband sometimes.  Even though we are living in the same house, I miss that one on one time to connect.  And I am also aware how precious that time is when we have it.

Grocery Shopping

This morning I went shopping.  It sounds like a simple exercise, but with three sick children in tow, it was far from the highlight of my day.  I didn’t take the pusher, because with the cupboards close to empty I needed to do quite a large shop, and required a trolley.  The girls were very good – and trailed along beside and behind me-until we left the supermarket positioned inside a large shopping centre.  My two year old sat on the ground in the middle of the trolley traffic screaming, “I want my dummy!”. “I want my rug!”.  “I want my lollies!”.  Yes, I had succumbed-they had a packet of ‘tic tacs’ each. Of course, she wanted none of these things.  She wanted to be out of this shopping centre with her sick little self tucked into bed.  And in the ideal world that is where she would be.  I know this because every time one of these three comfort items was offered to her she pinged it as far away as she possibly could.

I just had to get the fish for dinner.  I was determined.  I would be able to see her from the fish shop.  She had shuffled herself out of the line of trolley traffic.  I began to slowly push the trolley towards the fish shop.  Then our very sensitive three year old could take it no longer and screamed, “Pick her up Mum, pick her up!”.  I was inwardly groaning, thinking ‘how am I going to hold a squirming, screaming two year old, maneuver an overloaded trolley, watch two three year olds and manage to order/give/receive money from fish shop lady?’.  Aaaaahhhhhh!!!!  There are times as a parent I think you are completely entitled to indulge in self-pity.  This was one.  Many other shoppers were giving me sympathetic nods and smiles as I held my tight-lipped grimace.  Anyway, I did it!  Tick groceries, tick fish – forget the bread!  I was now attempting to navigate a very full trolley, screaming toddler on one hip, very heavy handbag on one shoulder and keeping an eye on the twins.

We made it onto the escalator, and as I glanced back I realised that one of the girls had dropped her ‘ruggie’ at the top of the escalator, and I was going to have to travel back up and retrieve it.  Thankfully a very kind gentleman brought the rug down to my screaming toddler and me.  In one last display of defiance, my two year old pinged her dummy and it landed in between the two glass panels of the escalators, where I was unable to retrieve it from with my short arms. It was of great amusement to my three children and many onlookers to see me make many trips up and down the escalator, extended fingers just out of reach of that desirable piece of plastic.  Until a woman with two children and clearly a larger residual brain capacity than me whipped her trusty purse from her bag, made a final ascent and hockey swiped it down the escalator to me.  If it weren’t all so depressing, along with two year old still screaming throughout the entire incident, it would have almost been funny!

(Dis)Organisation

I should add that I am writing this post on pieces of paper I have scrounged from inside the car as I wait for the RACV to arrive.  Spectacularly, I have run out of petrol less than one hundred metres from home and on our way to kinder.  I knew I was cutting it fine –clearly a little too fine!  And I am achieving quite a lot due to the length of time my on road assistance vehicle is taking to arrive.  My husband has collected the twins from our breakdown point and taken them to kindergarten (a great advantage of him working close by – for me, not him!).  One thing I have learned is not to waste a moment.  If I can possibly achieve two or three things at once I do.  Whilst performing one task my mind is usually ahead of my hands planning the next ‘thing’ to be done.  And I fall down – all the time.  I bumble, I make things up as I go. If you are looking for flaws, I have plenty!  But I do my best to juggle it all.   And most of the time it all feels like a great big exciting adventure.  Most of the time.

I have added a lunch box (or morning cuppa time) recipe for Chocolate Chip biscuits.  I have tried countless different recipes for these biscuits and I totally think this is the best and so do the children!  I generally double the recipe.  And I have a fabulous mixer-so I throw all ingredients in and turn mixer on!  However I have included the more considered approach below.

Cadbury Milk Chocolate Chip Cookies

Edit: I have added this photo of my cookies that I baked using Katie’s recipe – they are delicious!

Cadbury Choc Chip Cookies
Ingredients:

  • 125g unsalted butter (softened)
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
  • ¾ cup Cadbury milk chocolate baking chips/bits

Method:

  1. Cream butter and sugars.  Mix in egg and vanilla.  Stir in flour and fold through choc chips.
  2. Place teaspoonfuls on lined baking trays.  Bake 12-15 mins at 160 degrees in a fan forced oven.

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As Katie so honestly puts it “I have to seriously work at being tidy.  It does not come easily.  I find it entirely effortful.” Is there an element of family life you find you have to work really work at? (I will add mine in the comments below too.)